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Zambia / Economic Diversification - 2002-06-04

The Zambian government is holding a consultative meeting with international donors regarding the diversification of the country's economy. Experts on the Zambian economy say copper, the country's major foreign exchange earner for the past three decades is diminishing. Official statistics indicate that copper's contribution to the country's Gross Domestic Product, GDP, has dropped from 16.5% in 1994 to 6.2% in the year 2000. Experts attribute this to several factors, which include low copper prices at the international market, coupled with lack of investment in the mining sector.

Finance Minister, Emmanuel Kasonde says the impact of such developments in the Zambian economy has been devastating, particularly on the Copperbelt Province where the mines are located, "For instance, formal sector employment for the Copperbelt has declined from 148,000 in 1993 to Merelya hundred thousand by 1998".

For over a decade, there have been calls from different quarters of the Zambian society regarding the diversification of the Zambian economy. But the calls have gone unheeded. Some analysts have welcomed the consultative meeting on the diversification of the Zambian economy as long overdue.

Cleophas Phiri, a Lusaka-based businessman says Zambia does not have to depend on copper. He says, "I think the alternatives are several: one is to explore other avenues in the mining area; look into the agricultural sector as well because food is selling world-wide every where. and Zambia has a great potential in the area of agriculture".

Mr. Phiri's colleague, Allan Mulenga agrees with the sentiments but calls for caution in the way governmen tdeals with those who invest in the country's economy. He says, "Regarding agriculture, they must be careful. These people that come in saying they want to do agriculture imply do game-ranching. They get the land, they do not do agriculture as they simply game-ranch".

Zambia's major export and foreign exchange earner has always been copper. In the early seventies, copper prices sharply went down forcing government to borrow from outside in the hope that the country will pay back when copper prices picked up. But that never happened resulting in more debt, which now stands at seven billion united states dollars with poverty levels estimated at almost 80%, analysts say the first step out of the current economic situation is for Zambia to shift its emphasis from copper to something else.